We’re big proponents of coworking here at OpenDesks, which, if you’re unfamiliar, is “a shared work environment and a set of community and cultural values that guide the development and operation of office space: facilities where freelancers, entrepreneurs, telecommuters, and drop-ins work side-by-side,” according to Mark W. Kidd.
In Coworking to Quick-Start Rural Innovation, Mark outlines the importance of coworking in general and for rural communities in particular. This is a really interesting take on the subject, since most coworkers tend to be in urban areas.
But the 21st-century mobile workforce has infiltrated even rural America; Mark tells us what this means for community, creativity, innovation, and the concept of work as we know it. He says, “coworking supports and cultivates diverse, collaborative small enterprises, a class of economic activity that’s essential to building sustainable rural economies.” But how and why should we do it? We talked to Mark for some insight and tips:
OpenDesks: What do you think is the most important benefit of rural coworking?
Mark W. Kidd: Rural communities are often seen as reliant on corporations and government agencies to support economic development. One reason for this misconception is that many economic development models used in rural America rely on a well-funded outside partner to provide a substantial financial investment. Coworking is so suited for rural applications because it is relatively low in overhead and also because it really benefits from the diversity that comes from cross-sector and cross-market collaboration; rural entrepreneurs are well-versed at those kinds of collaborations.
OD: What do you think would help someone in a rural area looking to get started with a coworking space?
MK: It’s important to meet potential members as early as possible to inform the planning. Seeking out existing microenterprise and home-based businesses can be tricky because such ventures may not be incorporated or registered with the local government. I’d suggest community spaces like the farmer’s market, agriculture extension office, and Rotary club to meet potential members in addition to the college, library, and coffee shop. Also, check out the websites of regional grantmakers for lists of grantees in order to learn about small organizations based in your area.
OD: What advice do you have for established rural offices looking to open their spaces to coworking or shared workspace?
MK: You have an important opportunity to become more active in the civic and economic life of your community. For many existing ventures, joining a coworking space will make sense financially as well as advance their mission, but taking on the management of this type of community space is also a commitment to the community-building aspects of the model. In this role you will be both a landlord and a partner to the members. The good news is that case studies and best practices for these relationships are being documented, and there are venues like the coworking discussion lists for finding out how operating a coworking space might change your way of doing business.
OD: What are some of your favorite rural coworking spaces?
MK: I’d like to answer this question in a different way — I think the rural coworking spaces that are most interesting are the ones that are not yet aware of the term coworking at all. I think we’ll find that many existing community spaces and programs have been evolving convergently towards coworking practices — both out of necessity and opportunity — and there’s a lot of potential for growth if those folks get a chance to join this growing community. I’m very interested in community kitchens and canneries, public libraries, community centers, and adult education programs right now. I think there are a lot more stories to come about other synergies between established rural institutions and development models and the coworking model.
Building Strong Communities
Mark supports coworking anywhere; urban, suburban, or rural; it’s the collaboration and community that’s important. Cultivating coworking in rural areas continues to be key – not just for the typical collaborative creativity that urban coworking is known for, but as a possible economic benefit and community-builder as well. Opening your office up to coworking can even be a civic enterprise, further encouraging economic development, the fostering of ideas, and the building of strong rural communities.
For specific rural coworking-related questions, email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to check out his work, Central Appalachia Regional Network - http://carnnet.org/; and Appalshop - http://appalshop.org, for some inspiration!
For more information about rural coworking, visit the Coworking Wiki. If you offer a shared workspace at your company or you run a coworking space, add it to OpenDesks. Or, if you’re looking for help on getting started as a coworking space or shared workspace, call OpenDesks at 855-673-6337, we can help.
Photo: E. Main St. in Radford, Virginia, where a coworking center will open this fall via Mark K. Kidd